Try that again - Preview
Friday, 23rd Oct 2020 18:52 by Clive Whittingham
Having failed abysmally against Preston's sit-deep-and-break approach to away games on Wednesday, QPR get a second swing on Saturday with a visit from Aitor Karanka's Birmingham City.
QPR (1-3-2, WLDDDL, 16th) v Birmingham (1-3-2, WDDDLL, 18th)
Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Saturday October 24, 2020 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Some wind, some rain, some sun, not that cold, I don’t think they know to be honest >>> Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium, Loftus Road, London, W12
The year of our Lord 2020 has certainly poured plenty of perspective into the definition of ‘bleak’, but I feel like our abject 2-0 slump against Preston on Wednesday night, shown to us through a camera phone being held up in the air on the outskirts of Dunstable, still qualifies.
Initially, it felt like it had all the ingredients for one of those nights under the lights at Loftus Road. The never-ending string of Zoom and Teams calls masquerading as day job, the incessant three weeks of rain, the low expectations, the hints of something or other stirring in the weekend performance at Bournemouth… Oh how I longed to be making excuses for an early office departure, to cram myself into a packed and sweaty Central Line carriage, to run through the sleet along Goldhawk Road, to try and squeeze a couple of Peronis at a Crown and Sceptre six deep at the bar, with my friends behind the bar pouring pints to help out. When that day arrives we'll live on Ocean Drive.
Some of our best nights have been born from such meagre beginnings. Jamie Mackie’s Liverpool comeback. Dexter Blackstock’s Preston masterblaster. Sam Di Carmine driving us home through the snow. All just when hope seemed lost. All, certainly, preceded by a “can I really be arsed with this tonight?” from almost everybody eventually there in attendance. Just when you’re out, the bastards drag you back in, and with one win from six so far this season it felt like Wednesday – against a team we took apart twice last season, once with only ten men – might be the time for a little “see, I love you really” cuddle.
Instead, more spit for our soup. In truth, it goes like that more often than it goes well. For every one-man-rescue-mission from Luke Freeman against Leeds there are a dozen Mick Harford “that first half half was unacceptable for a professional football team, inept” nights against Ipswich Town in return for turning your Tuesday/Wednesday nights over to Queens Park Rangers. It’s what makes the highs so high, but boy are those lows low when they come like that. If we were still there now we wouldn’t have scored against Preston, and at Lee Wallace’s rate of penalty concession God only knows how far we’d be behind. Stop. Fouling. People. In. The. Penalty. Area. Please.
There’s no way of polishing that turd, and we made no attempt to do so in the post-match review which pointed fingers squarely at a team of players who seemed to give up 1-0 down with an hour to play, and a manager who seemed to think an away game with Bournemouth and a home one with PNE were similar tasks to be approached in near identical ways. One in the eye, hopefully, for those who think LFW is in league with the club, scared to critique when it’s deserved, and in return on the end of some sort of privileged advance phone line for signings and other information. “Don’t announce that one yet, we haven’t rung Clive to tell him".
But equally, more fuel for the fire stoked up by our summer interview with Mark Warburton that we don’t like him, and he doesn’t like us, and on our side, nothing could be further from the truth. I think he’s a strong, principled manager, trying to do his absolute best in increasingly difficult circumstances. He had to tear an already inadequate squad apart in the summer of 2019 – three wins in the whole second half of the previous season – and reassemble it on a lower wage bill while spending only £50k in transfer fees. Having succeeded in that, and finished midtable, he’s now being asked to do it again with Nahki Wells, Jordan Hugill, Ebere Eze, Ryan Manning, Angel Rangel and Marc Pugh removed even from what he had available to him last year. This in a division where Nottingham Forest are paying £105,000 a week for Luke Freeman, Lyle Taylor and Lewis Grabban. Most managers would regress into football of extreme pragmatism, with everybody behind the ball, every 0-0 achieved away cherished, every 1-0 ground out at home heralded. Unwatchable? Sure. But get to 50 points and nobody cares how that sausage was made. Warburton is attempting to achieve get there playing football. I’m full of admiration. Really.
On Wednesday he was attempting to achieve it without his go-to high press man Luke Amos, or his natural replacement George Thomas, already injured just weeks into the season. He also didn’t have his main point-man up front, because Scotland boss Steve Clarke felt it acceptable to take Lyndon Dykes on international duty and start him three times in a week. I’d dearly love to know how Clarke would have reacted had Scotland done the same to his striker when he was similarly trying to run uphill against the Old Firm as Kilmarnock manager. Play the fucking game Steve, or we’ll start doing those bits about how you look like you slept in the Doncaster Wetherspoons again. Prick.
Warburton would no doubt point to all of that and more. Two weeks ago we were wondering why Dom Ball wasn’t getting a look in, now we’re marking him 4/10 and calling him “superfluous”. That’s because, in our opinion, he was needed at Bournemouth but not in a home game against a team with everybody behind the ball and one up front, but it still looks like Richard Littlejohn sitting at the back and throwing bottle-style journalism, with no appreciation of the circumstance, nor experience of actually having to do the job ourselves. I don’t want it to seem like we’re not well aware of the task in hand. Signing players always breeds temporary optimism among the #announceRavel mouth breathers but at the end of the day Nahki Wells, Jordan Hugill and Ebere Eze are enormous losses, and they’ve been replaced by three punts: one from one of the worst teams in one of Europe’s worst top flights; one from a relegated Charlton; an ageing Albert Adomah; Chris Willock who'll be lucky to survive the winter with that physique; and whatever else we could find lying about. I still think we’ve had a good window, but this is going to be difficult.
Swinging back the other way, that’s not to say Wednesday was in any way good enough, from players or manager, and I’m genuinely fascinated to see what happens next. If you thought Preston were defensive, unambitious and cynical, then get somebody to hold your beer, because here come Aitor Karanka’s Birmingham City.
Karanka’s approach to football is to destroy it. He talks, behaves, acts and coaches like he grew up hating the sport, and was bullied by the other boys because of it, so has now dedicated his life to getting jobs on the basis of who he knows and then systemically boring the actual living shit out of everybody, ruining the sport for those who once dared to mock him. Neither Birmingham nor their opposition have manged more than one goal in any of their seven games so far this season. He started with a 1-0 loss to Cambridge United. I would swim in Bernard Manning’s septic tank before I bought a season ticket for an Aitor Karanka side. They arrive at Loftus Road without a goal in 210 minutes, and having suffered grievously through their failed 9-0-1 attempt to get a 0-0 from Norwich in the week it appears they have no aim or ambition to change that unless specifically invited by the opposition – exactly what Lee Wallace did to Preston in the week. Go 1-0 down to this lot and you’ll see an approach that even Paul Hart would think “a bit much”.
So what will QPR do? Warburton was criticised long, loud and hard last season for the team’s defensive record. Rangers conceded 76 times, and he’s been beaten over the head with that by this website and others. This year things have been better. Two clean sheets have been kept already, when it took 21 games to get one last term. QPR have still only faced a division-low 12 shots on target in six games, and two of those were penalties. Could it be that either stung by the criticism, or more likely not confident that a forward line of Chair-Bonne-Dykes is anywhere near good enough to get us out of trouble in the same way Wells-Hugill-Eze was, Warburton has now overcompensated the other way and tried to plug the gaps with two defensive central midfielders and a ‘presser’ at ten, rather than a creator? Geoff Cameron, who he told us was no longer capable of playing multiple games a week/month, has played every minute so far.
We’ll know more tomorrow, but, having as near as you’ll ever get to a dry run at it on Wednesday, if we make all of the same mistakes over again, the dissent will be hard to argue against.
Links >>> Marsh hat trick – History >>> Karankaball – Interview >>> Cast of thousands – Podcast >>> Imagine him in a band – Referee >>> Birmingham City official website >>> Small Heath Alliance – Message Board >>> We Are Birmingham – Podcast >>> Birmingham Mail – Local Press
Geoff Cameron Facts No.110 In The Series – Geoff actually thinks Lyndon Dykes’ hair looks a bit shit.
Team News: Luke Amos, fairly tragically, is out for the season and joins fellow long termer Charlie Owens in the dungeon nursing blown out knees to listen to Angel Rangel tell old war stories. Warbs Warburton would like to replace his high press role with George Thomas, but his thigh injury is a problem likely to ongo for a further fortnight to the other side of the international break. Lyndon Dykes, however, everything crossed, is likely to return here after being flogged to death by Scotland last week. Even without a one match ban collected for yellow card accumulation I’d be a little bit reticent of sending him back up there for the November break after last week’s flagrant misuse of a player. The ease at which Preston were able to sit behind the ball and pick Rangers off at will on Wednesday will surely trigger further changes, and longer gametime for Albert Adomah and Chris Willock, against the most defensive team in the league this Saturday.
Jake Clarke Salter (extreme boredom) is out for at least a fortnight and likely to be replaced with Spanish Second Tier Defender 3.6. Jon Toral (wankers’ cramp) and Lukas Jutkiewicz (actual plague) are both unlikely to feature, while Adam Clayton is on the naughty step for a game after his red card during the week. Gary Gardner, Maikel Keiftenbeld and Caolan Boyd-Munce have barely featured at all this season but all warranted a mention in Karanka’s press conference this week, for want of something more interesting to talk about.
Elsewhere: Two teams freshly relegated from the Premier League start your Saturday, because obviously Sky Sports Leeds are all over that like a donkey on chips. Bournemouth are yet to lose, three wins and three draws, heading to Watford who have won four and drawn one of their six so far. They still trail Bristol City in the early running, second on 13 points despite a midweek loss and facing Swanselona at home this weekend. And Reading, still streaking away at the top of the table, with five wins and a draw, and only a single goal conceded, ahead of a home banker with Rotherham. What is going on there? I’m not enjoying it.
The final play-off spot is currently occupied by our hot pre-season tip Millwall Scholars following their comfortable midweek win against Lutown. Troy Parrott has returned to Spurs for treatment on an injury that’s likely to keep him out for a number of months, thought it doesn’t seem to be bothering them with just a single loss so far and another likely home win this weekend against Grimley Colliery Band.
Down in South Wales it’s the clash between the Twelfth and Thirteenth Annual Neil Warnock Farewell Tours as Cardiff meet Middlesbrough. The Mad Chicken Farmers, meanwhile, still reeling from our praise of their transfer window activity that quickly wrought about a home loss to Nottingham Florist – the only team to lose to them so far – ahead of their trip to somewhere vaguely near Coventry City. Sheffield Owls’ quest to claw the 12 points back sees them face Lutown at home – four more points required for zero. Huddersfield v Preston is this week’s big North-off. Wycombe are at Borussia Norwich - #prayforWycombe. I’m getting a growing feeling of dread that I know exactly where, when and how their first win is coming and it aint this weekend.
We wish good luck to Stoke, facing their toughest home game of the season at home to Justice League Leaders Racing Club de Kew Bridge, and to Nottingham Florist’s cast of a thousand footballers as they attempt to make the short hop over the M1 for tonight’s Derby derby with Derby. Lawyers currently working on gaining approval for their attempt to bring in Kamil Grosicki from West Brom, via a loan deal from chairman’s other club in Greece which intends to sign him and then loan him straight to the City Ground, in a deal they insist is entirely legitimate, above board, and certainly completed by 17.00 last Friday. I reckon it’s just that fifteenth signing they need to turn this lousy run around.
Referee: Occasional Premier League referee Simon Hooper gets this one, a year on from his last QPR appointment which ended in a 4-2 home win against Blackburn. Details.
QPR: Rangers, like Birmingham, are still without a win since the opening day of the season. Both teams have lost two and drawn three since, QPR have scored four and conceded seven, Birmingham have scored two and conceded four. The R’s have won four and drawn one of their last six visits to St Andrew’s but at Loftus Road Birmingham have lost only one of the last four visits. Four of the last seven have ended up as QPR wins though. The defeat to Preston midweek makes it one win from seven this season for Rangers, three wins from 16 since we returned to action in July, and six wins in our last 26 competitive fixtures. Rangers have won ten of their last 40 Championship games. Of their last 22 competitive games at Loftus Road they’ve won eight. Here’s one to finish – only Millwall matched Birmingham’s 15 goals scored from corners last season. Jesus. Mary. And Joseph.
Birmingham: Has Aitor Karanka made an impact on Birmingham you ask? Well, he’s taken a team that conceded 75 goals last season (including 44 at home, joint worst record in the league with…) and turned it into one that has conceded just five in seven matches. Birmingham are yet to concede more than once in a game, and have kept clean sheets against Brentford and Swansea. But, as he is prone to doing, he’s basically done that by abandoning all hope or intention of ever scoring a goal themselves. Their deep, tight, narrow, soul-destroying 9-0-1 approach to Norwich away in the week came a cropper three minutes from time, a second 1-0 defeat in a row and a third already this season. Birmingham have scored just three times in their seven games so far, and never more than one in a single match. No team, either Birmingham or their opponent, has managed two goals in a match this season (0-1, 1-0, 0-0, 1-1, 1-1, 0-1, 0-1). Of the seven that have been mustered in total, three have been penalties. They haven’t scored a goal in 210 minutes coming into this one. Karanka has also, as he’s prone to doing, done it by giving up any intention to have possession of the ball and do anything with it. In their Championship games so far this year Birmingham’s possession percentage has been 37%, 39%, 57% (in a home draw with Rotherham), 35%, 60% (but lost anyway to Sheff Wed), and a pitiful 27% at Carrow Road. Lone striker Scott Hogan touched the ball 18 times in 90 minutes at Carrow Road. If you thought Preston were conservative and defensive, prepare to pour drain cleaner in your eyes. This guy is a footballing anti-Christ, and it’s QPR’s job to cope with that a whole lot better than they did on Wednesday night. I’m looking at you, Captain of Glasgow Rangers.
Prediction: We’re indebted to The Art of Football for once again agreeing to sponsor our Prediction League and provide prizes. The squad is updated and you can get involved by lodging your prediction here or sample the merch from our sponsor’s QPR collection here. Last season’s champion Mase offers us this…
“We could really do with a good result after the midweek mauling. I don't think we'll have enough about us to keep a clean sheet but hope we can get back on track all the same. Birmingham to be defensive but we have enough threats to cause problems all the same. Dykes to score, with permission to make a late change to whoever is starting up front if it’s not him.”
Mase’s Prediction: QPR 1-1 Birmingham. Scorer – Lyndon Dykes
LFW’s Prediction: QPR 1-0 Birmingham. Scorer – Lyndon Dykes
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Letters from Wiltshire #46 by wessex_exile
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Letters from Wiltshire #45 by wessex_exile
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Letters from Wiltshire #44 by wessex_exile
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